Saturday, 18 August 2007

Becoming an atheist

I became an atheist almost overnight. I had tried for years to make religion work. I was not a church-goer but I was a nice, conventional, well-behaved girl and nice, conventional, well-behaved girls believed in God and heaven and all that stuff. As a reasonably intelligent person, I tried to make sense of the Bible and the many anomalies in it; the gulf between the Old and New Testaments, the Virgin birth etc and how there could be parallel religions, each believing in their own unique god and their own unique salvation. I also found real difficulties in the so-called morality attached to Christianity - it didn't feel very moral to me.

Like many other people, the older I got, the harder I found it to swallow what religion was requiring me to believe but neither had I found a good enough reason to reject it.

Then I studied a philosophy course with the Open University. Brilliant course - find it here . I felt my brain expand as I began to get to grips with the course and began to learn the technique of requiring more from an argument; I began to see the difference between an assertion and an argument, whether it came from a politician, a newspaper or a religion. Then, in the penultimate section on human nature after Darwin, I suddenly discovered evolution. I was blown away by it. I had thought I was a reasonably well-read, intelligent person; I thought I knew what evolution was but I knew nothing. I had reached the age of forty without knowing more than the vague notion that we were descended from monkeys. The theory of evolution, I discovered, had a hundred years of increasing validation; it was a robust and detailed explanation of how humanity and every other lifeform, could have come to be on the planet.

I was simultaneously exhilirated and furious. Why was this not being taught in schools? Why had I learned about magnetism and gravity and geology but not evolution. I was, and am, absolutely convinced that if evolution was taught in schools the world would be a very different place.

Within a few days of reading and absorbing this material, I became an atheist. Up until that point, a supernatural being had been the only explanation I had been given for the astounding variety of nature on the planet. Now I had another, better explanation and there was no need for a god any more.

Humanity has always been curious. We have always tried to find out how things work. We have always asked why and how things are the way they are. Primitive man came up with a special person, a Creator, to explain the variety, the wonder and the cruelty of life on earth - that was his best scientific answer to the question, how did I get here? As our scientific knowledge improved, the religions and superstitions that built up round these Creators should have died away. But they had become too powerful and, as we see even now, in the 21st century, vested interests are trying to keep humanity in ignorance about another, better, more consistent explanation of how the earth and the universe got to be the way they are.

I would not deny anyone the right to believe in the god of their choice but I am angry that young people are not given the facts and allowed to make up their own minds. When I started this post I didn't expect to get angry. I'm a pretty laid-back sort of puddock. I truly believe that everyone is on their own individual journey and that you should not force people to your own view just because you've discovered it. But if I hadn't studied that course in my own time at the age of forty, I would still be in the dark about a discovery that has as much valid evidence as gravity or geology. And that means that there are millions of people out there who do not know what a robust theory evolution is. And that does make me angry!


Greg said...

I think it took me about 10 years to get religion and gods out of my head. It's easy to convince your mind to change beliefs, but difficult to break habits. It is difficult to describe to people how my days go by without me even considering gods or religion when most other people's lives are so connected to those kind of beliefs.

I don't identify with the term atheist because I don't believe in a lot of things. It seems silly to define myself by a negation of one of those non-beliefs. I did a post called Why I Am Not An Atheist a while back that explains my thoughts in more detail.

Ironically I'm now better able to appreciate other people's belief systems and why they might choose them.

Puddock said...

Thanks for the comment Greg. I think we probably agree more than disagree. Like you, in my daily life religion and my lack of belief in it are no more relevant than my disbelief in fairies or ghosts. I also try to allow that other people will not have reached the same stage as I am at in my thinking (or indeed, that some might have progressed beyond the stage I am at)and so I do not try to persaude people that they should give up on their beliefs.

reasonable robinson said...

WOW! just embarked on a DBA and writing a paper - What is Truth? - ouch!! Looks like I'll be picking your brains!

Puddock said...

Sounds like a fun paper rr!